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Q&A with Bill Althouse, Founder of the Fat Pig Society

Bill Althoff

Hemp Business

Q&A with Bill Althouse, Founder of the Fat Pig Society

By Evan Tompros

Bill Althouse, Founder of the Fat Pig Society, is among the nation’s most highly experienced hemp farmers. As one of the first CBD producers in the world, he has developed new high-CBD varieties and pioneered some of the first USDA organic certifications for hemp propagation, cultivation, extraction and handling.

Althouse is committed to bringing economic value to the people and lifestyles he values most — organic farmers. Please read on below to learn more about Bill Althouse, the Fat Pig Society, and his life’s work in pursuing success and well being for farmers in the United States. 

How Did You Get Started in the Hemp Industry? 
Fifteen years ago, I was in Santa Fe, NM, running my energy engineering company that specialized in energy performance contracting, co-generation, renewable energy, building science, super insulation, and HERS ratings (Home Energy Rating System). 

At the time, the company was subsidizing my unprofitable hobby of selling giant dahlias and French strawberries at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, where I loved shocking people with their overwhelming beauty. I won Grand Champion at the Santa Fe County Fair for my French strawberries, and the next weekend, a nonprofit group seeking what they called a “blue ribbon” farmer approached my booth to ask me to become the grower for one of the first medical marijuana licenses in Albuquerque. I agreed to take the grower gig if they would fund my R&D to develop CBD genetics.

CBD was unheard of at that time, but I had read about Dr. Raphael Mechoulam from Israel, who is doing miracles with CBD. They thought I was crazy to want to grow marijuana that can’t get anyone high, but they agreed. 

After about a year of R&D, our dispensary became the first commercial CBD producer in the U.S., all thanks to Wade Laughter at Humboldt Seed Company for donating the first CBD genes to our R&D. When I saw that Colorado was working in 2012  to pass Amendment 64 legalizing hemp and marijuana, I moved there with the thought that CBD from outdoor hemp would lower the CBD price compared to indoor marijuana. We had also hoped that hemp could be the new crop for Colorado farmers to increase revenue that was desperately needed to stop the loss of family farms. 

As such, I testified in front of every committee at the Colorado legislature and the Department of Agriculture as rules were being set. While we were lobbying for Amendment 64, a member of our activist group, Dr. Erik Hunter, a Ph.D. in mining engineering, wrote and passed legislation for the mining industry to do a study of hemp as a bio-remediator of toxic contamination at some mining sites. Although it was just a small bio-remediation study, we got to plant the first legal hemp in Colorado, before Amendment 64 actually passed. 

We planted at Happy Heart Farm, the oldest certified organic farm on the Front Range, which became the primary hemp fields for the Fat Pig Society. The day after Amendment 64 passed, we began the “CBD Free For All” and gave away thousands of CBD clones all across Colorado, starting the CBD industry before hemp farms and dispensaries could get a license. 

Doug Fine wrote about the hemp biodiesel limo giveaway to document this time in Colorado. After Amendment 64 went into full effect, the first day of the actual Colorado hemp industry, I was standing outside the door of the Colorado Department of Agriculture at 6:00 am, waiting for the door to open at 9:00 am, to be sure we were the first registrant to grow hemp in Colorado.

What Were the Key Moments During Your Journey Through the Industry, and How That Has Led You to Where You Are Now?
There were two major moments that inspired new directions for Fat Pig Society.

The first was when we discovered that CBD genetics that would not go over the 0.3% THC limit did not exist, exposing all CBD farmers to the unacceptable risk of total crop destruction. 

As farmers began testing hot, they addressed this problem by harvesting two weeks before maturity, which did get the crop under 0.3% but produced 50% less CBD than a variety that could go to full maturity, as much of the cannabinoids, both CBD and THC, pile onto the flowers during the last two weeks. We started a genomic selection R&D project to hunt through the hemp gene pool for a variety that would not go hot, and give a higher yield by harvesting at maturity. We wanted to help other farmers grow CBD, but we were not willing to expose them to high risk and low yield.

At first, we thought that with so many suppliers of CBD seeds and clones, we only needed to grow out all the available CBD varieties to full maturity, test each plant, and find the one that would not go hot. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that 100% of all CBD genetics would go hot, if grown to full maturity. Doing the R&D was only possible as an all volunteer non-profit cooperative, which was able to accept the losses of growing and burning our field every year when it tested hot. We had to destroy millions of dollars of CBD flower in order to do the R&D and stay compliant with regulations. The sellers of CBD genetics were not willing, nor able, to take the losses from R&D. It took six years to find a “safe” CBD variety. 

So far, we have screened over 15,000 individual CBD chemotypes from many sources and have only found four clones that will not go hot at full maturity. None were from suppliers. All four were found in our fields, the result of an unknown cross pollination source during the first two years of the Colorado hemp industry when we, like everyone, were growing hot hemp. Once we discovered the extent of the THC problem, we had to quit using our original hot variety, but one of her daughters turned out to be the Unicorn. 

Since our R&D was hunting for something that did not exist, we flew a Unicorn flag over the R&D field. When we finally found the perfect clone with high production and minimal risk, so we just had to name it Unicorn. Unicorn was our first step into the legitimization of hemp, becoming a true plant variety, crossing over from hemp into the horticultural world, earning a Variety Certification as a real plant by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). Visit here to learn more about our genomic work.

The second key moment that changed our direction occurred over a year ago during my volunteer work at ASTM D37-07, setting material specifications and testing standards for hemp fibers. ASTM sets the standards for almost all basic materials in the U.S. In mature material supply industries, the corresponding ASTM committee is composed of the volunteering engineers of all the major sellers and buyers of a material who have to agree by unanimous consent to set a standard. ASTM Standards are then used as the basis to specify a material in supply contracts and to resolve disputes between the buyers and sellers of all basic materials. Legitimization of hemp products requires such standards.

From the feedback of the world’s leading textile engineers of the ASTM D13 committee, which sets the standards for all natural and synthetic fibers, it became obvious that hemp fiber had a long way to go before it would be legitimate in the minds of those D13 engineers that are the sellers and buyers of all fibers. Hemp legitimization means a hemp material meets all the rules, regulations, material specifications, and testing standards of the non-hemp materials that hemp seeks to replace. Once legitimate, hemp fibers have the even bigger hurdle of being competitive, which means providing higher performance at a lower price than the material being replaced. 

I learned a stark reality that decorticated hemp fibers may not meet the standards of textiles, and could potentially cost more than other fiber competitors, like cotton. Most fiber producers are not competitive using 100-year-old technology for hemp fiber processing that requires heavy capital investments in decortication and degumming facilities. A decorticator does not produce individual fibers, but only a bast bundle of fibers glued together with lignin, so the toxic chemical degumming is necessary to remove the lignin to get to a real free fiber. So far, the EPA has not approved any attempt at degumming due to that toxicity. 

This collaboration with the target fiber industries provided a checklist of what hemp has to do to become legitimate and competitive. Since cotton does not need expensive decortication and degumming, the key to competing with cotton is eliminating the decortication and degumming facilities. To address that, we have developed a completely new supply chain for hemp fibers that eliminates all the economic and technical barriers to hemp fiber production, and just received a grant from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to do feasibility on our biotechnology. 

We propose to use standard silage bag biotechnology to fractionate and degum hemp fiber on farm with all the value added of fiber production going to the farmer, produce biofuel as a byproduct, and recapture nutrients for application back onto the fields. Commercial silage bag subcontractors can harvest and bag 5,000 tons per day.

What Inspired Your Commitment to Regenerative Organic Agriculture and the Economic Health of Small-scale Farmers and Businesses?
It is because they are the only methods that are proven to be sustainable. I sold at the Santa Fe Farmers Market for 15 years where my fellow farmers were Chicano, who have been farming the same fields for over 400 years, or Native American, who have been farming the same fields for over 1,000 years. They were all regenerative, organic and, obviously, sustainable. These farmers had always been the sole lifeblood of their communities. When you visit them at the market, it is easy to see that their motivation is not profit, they just want to see the smile on your face when you taste what they grew.

We capture more of the value added for the farmer. Agriculture’s main problem is that the farmer only gets a penny, but the store gets a dollar. We saw that if the consumer buys farm direct, we can lower the price and the farmer earns more. If the retail price is a dollar in the old model, in the cooperative model, you could drop the price to the consumer by 90% and the direct selling farmer gets the whole dime, or 10 times what he earns now. Co-ops rule!

We provide free consulting to any certified organic farmer who practices regenerative rotations and is primarily a food grower feeding their community. The CBD market collapse slowed down our partnering with new organic farms and we are working with just four now.

Tell Our Readers about Your AOSCA Certified Clone Genetics for Unicorn
Unicorn is the only CBD variety that has a money-back guarantee, in writing, to not go over the legal limit of 0.3% THC. We hope that Unicorn inspires other seed and clone sellers to become legitimate too, and guarantee their genetics to take the THC risk off the farmer. 

Unicorn was one of the first deposits in Colorado State University’s hemp research center. Once Unicorn was in tissue culture, CSU entomology, virology, and pathology were able to certify the tissue to Clean Plant Standards. Samples of Unicorn from the sterile bank were used to start commercial production with a Clean Plant Certified industrial propagator. The propagator now produces Unicorn that has the AOSCA Blue Tag, Organic Certification, and Clean Plant Certification. The propagator uses robots and automation that will make Unicorn the cheapest clone available. 

Unicorn has some unique advantages. She sheds all her big fan leaves before harvest, pre-trimming the field, thus giving a very high flower to leaf ratio for higher quality extracts. She can go to full maturity without risk to deliver twice the CBD acre of a variety that has to be cut early to be safe. Full maturity also allows full development of the terpene “nose”. She has an unusual morphology when grown on a short cycle – 30 days vegetative, 60 days flower. This 90 day cycle produces a baseball bat type flower without any side branching, allowing planting at very high density without self shading like big plants. If the 30-day vegetative growth is done at the propagator, it will be possible to do six harvests a year in a greenhouse.

What is Next for Fat Pig Society? What are Your Near and Long Term Goals?
Our mission is to generate revenue for family farms and to cut CO2 at scale. For us, short term goals are always what best achieves the mission. For now, it is farmer ownership of the supply chains for CBD and fiber production. The long term goal is that farmers and the planet will become sustainable.

For more information on the Fat Pig Society and its hemp breeding programs, contact Bill Althouse directly at 720.454.7213, or email fatpigsociety@gmail.com. Visit https://fatpigsociety.com/.

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